Jim Curtin

Union sign manager Jim Curtin to contract extension

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Union sign manager Jim Curtin to contract extension

Change is in the air for the Union, but not where you’d expect. 

The Union on Monday extended head coach Jim Curtin's contract for the 2019 season. Terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed.

“We’re continuing our collaboration,” sporting director Ernst Tanner said at the Union’s end-of-season press conference. “If the collaboration is going well, we’ll continue it.”

Maligned by Philadelphia fans, Curtin, who was out of contract following the season, landed fourth in MLS Coach of the Year voting and is coming off a record season for the Union, earning a franchise record 15 wins and the team’s third-ever playoff berth — its second in three seasons.

“I do understand the microscope in Philadelphia shines a little tougher,” Curtin said. “That comes with the territory of coaching in Philadelphia. There’s going to be scrutiny. I’m happy to be here, this club means a ton to me. Philadelphia is where I’m from and I look forward to 2019.” 

With Tanner taking putting his stamp on the club, Curtin could have easily been a casualty of new management. However, the Philly-native did enough to convince the new boss he’s worthy. 

“Jim led us to the playoffs for the second time in a three-year period,” Tanner said. “His relationship with the players is very good. He's an expert in developing young players, which will be a clear focus in the future.”

While Curtin is remaining, Tanner does want to see some change, especially in terms of the team’s on-field flexibility, aggressiveness and unpredictability. The manager's ability to accomplish Tanner's goals could determine his future beyond 2019.

"We need to make it a little bit more inconvenient to play us,” Tanner said. “I feel we are a little too easy to reckon, especially when everyone ahead of us knows we’re playing in a 4-2-3-1."

Though Curtin is sticking with the team, a number of long-time players and former prospects won’t be. On Monday, the club announced that it has declined contract options on defenders Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro, along with midfielders Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers and Adam Najem. High-priced forward Jay Simpson and third-string goalkeeper Jake McGuire were also cut loose. 

MLS assist leader Borek Dockal saw his loan expire from Chinese club Henan Jianye. The full purchase price on the 30-year-old’s contract could be too rich for the Union, who are expected to be in the market for a new No. 10 if they can’t retain the playmaker.

"There's a possibility to bring him back but it's not in our hands," Tanner said. "Borek told us about his situation and wish to return to Europe, something we need to respect. If there's a chance to bring him back, we'll do it."

Backup goalkeeper John McCarthy, Warren Creavalle and Ray Gaddis are all out of contract, but all three have had discussions with the team. The Union specifically announced it is working on a new contract with veteran left back Fabinho.

“We’re going to scout now,” Tanner said.

Union's season ends with loss to NYCFC in MLS knockout round

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Union's season ends with loss to NYCFC in MLS knockout round

BOX SCORE

After suffering a lopsided defeat to NYCFC in the season finale at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, the Union marched back up to the Bronx on Wednesday night and did it again, falling, 3-1, in the knockout round of the 2018 MLS Playoffs to end their season.

• It was the fourth playoff match in franchise history for the Union and also their fourth loss. The club has yet to win a playoff game in its nine-year history. NYCFC moves on to face Atlanta United in a home-and-home aggregate series. 

• Union manager Jim Curtin put his fingerprint on the playoff match by slotting Alejandro Bedoya in at his natural right attacking midfield side, while tapping veteran Warren Creavalle to break up the middle of the field next to Haris Medunjanin. 

• It was a creative idea that ultimately failed to impact the match. Creavalle was pulled for Ilsinho at the half as the Union pushed for a more sustained offense. It took a while but paid off in the 83rd minute, when Ilsinho found Burke for the cross and tap-in goal to make it 3-1. 

• Before that, though, off a Mark McKenzie turnover in the 10th minute, NYCFC opened the scoring on a beautiful play. A Maxi Moralez pass found Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for the half bounce rocket to beat Andre Blake and claim the 1-0 NYCFC lead. David Villa doubled the NYCFC lead in the 26th minute. 

• The Union appeared to gain traction late in the first half when Bedoya was de-cleated in the box. It should have been a penalty kick but somehow went uncalled. It was that kind of night. The Union finished the first half with no shots on goal and just two in the second. 

• It didn’t get much better in the second half. As the Union pressed, Moralez chipped Blake on a fast break for the 3-0 lead. The Union were thoroughly outclassed all match long and especially struggled to generate offensive chances.

• The sting of defeat in important matches is a familiar one for the Union, who have lost four playoff matches and three U.S. Open Cup finals in the club’s history. Wednesday wasn’t even the most painful of the season, as the Union were crushed in Houston against the non-playoff Dynamo, 3-0, in the Open Cup finals back in September.

• But despite the disappointment, it was still a record season for the 2018 Union, who claimed the franchise record in total points, wins and road wins. Midfielder Borek Dockal took the MLS assist crown and young defenders McKenzie and Auston Trusty made names for themselves. Things have been worse for the Union.

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

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Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Celebratory beers sat mostly untouched in the Union locker room.

Following a 5-1 playoff-clinching win over Minnesota United on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations), the players had reason to celebrate. Instead, they were jovial but subdued. With two matches remaining and first-round home-field advantage in play, the reason was made clear. 

“They’re not satisfied,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club can finish as high as third in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. “We have a very humble and hungry locker room.”

It’s just the third time the Union have clinched a playoff berth, and nearly a decade since they did so with confidence. Curtin’s club limped into the postseason in 2016 riding a bevy of losses, only to be dismantled by Toronto FC when it got there. 

“We had just backed in, we weren’t in good form going into that game against Toronto,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. “This feels a lot better.”

It also feels different. 

“You learn the most about your group in the hard moments,” said Curtin, who transformed his struggling club into an Eastern Conference player. “Not only did they pass, but they did so with style.”

With the win on Saturday, the Union, who already demolished a franchise record with 15 wins, surpassed the 2011 team for the franchise-high point total with 50. But what seemed like a true departure from past Union teams, is with a chance to take the easy road with a victory against a non-playoff team at home — they took it with authority. 

“I’ve been here for a while, I’ve seen it all,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I’ve seen this team grow a lot. We’ve learned to close games out, we’ve learned to dominate when we need to. Tough times can make you or break you and it’s been making us.” 

Led by Fafa Picault’s two, the Union scored four first-half goals and toyed with Minnesota throughout. At times it felt more like an early-round U.S. Open Cup match than a late-season MLS tilt. Credit goes to the Union for living up to the moment and seizing opportunity. 

“We don’t suck,” Picault said. “We’re doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been through the hard times together and the good ones. It’s important we continue to do that. We’re not going to get overly confident and overhype the situation.”

The Union are now staring down New York City FC at the No. 3 spot in the East. With the win on Saturday, the Union jumped over the Columbus Crew (48 points) to claim the fourth spot. The Union face NYCFC on the road in the season finale. 

“We want to climb the table as high as we can,” Picault said. “We’re trying to get third or fourth place. The job is not done, but tonight we’re happy with what we’ve done on the field and we want to keep that going into the next two games.”